Online dispute resolution proposal needs careful consideration before application to family cases

16 Feb 2015

Family law organisation Resolution welcomes today's proposals from the Civil Justice Council to move towards online dispute resolution for small claims, but warns that careful consideration is needed before such a system is applied to family cases.

Resolution chair Jo Edwards says: "Online hearings for family financial cases that do not involve large sums of money, as suggested in today's Civil Justice Council report, are an interesting suggestion. As we know, the family courts are struggling to cope with the wave of self-represented litigants that followed the family legal aid cuts, so in principle we welcome the idea of online dispute resolution for small-money cases - indeed, if managed properly, a system of this type could potentially deal with some family case interim hearings, regardless of the size of the money at stake."

She continues: "However, even cases that involve small sums can be complex and can have serious repercussions for the people involved. Evaluation would need to be carried out very carefully in order to ensure people have a thorough understanding of their legal position and options. There are also concerns about accessibility for those for whom English is a second language, or litigants with disabilities. In these cases, there is no substitute for advice from an experienced professional.

"Resolution would like to see consideration to making funding available for initial legal advice for family cases, which would help direct people towards out of court dispute resolution where the case is suitable. Online evaluation of the type envisaged by the report is no substitute for tailored and timely advice as to the law and alternative process options".

Jo Edwards is available for interview on request.

For further information or to arrange an interview, please contact Fiona Ivits, Resolution Communications Manager on